Walk into any classroom in America and you are likely to see at least 3 kids not engaged at any given time. There are a number of reasons kids are not engaged in their classwork. There are sleep issues, home life issues, not eating, and sometimes mental health issues. While each of these has their own causes and possible solutions attached to them, there is one more possible reason; low motivation. Low student motivation can be seen in kids sleeping on their desks, drawing on their binders or notebooks, not putting in the effort on school work that is at or below their personal skill level, or giving attitude to their peers or teachers.
This outward struggle can be difficult for teachers to see and want to keep teaching. It can hard to parents to watch as their smart, bright kids fall behind in school. There are ways to help kids to become motivated again, as well as ways to try to keep kids from getting to a point where they become unmotivated. As an educator who has taught both high school and elementary school, I can say this is not an issue just for older kids. Younger kids are inherently curious, and want to do well. This helps keep them motivated even when everything tells them to stop. Sometime between 1st and 12th grade most kids will become unmotivated, but most will find a way will to pull themselves back. It’s all in how the adults around them react to their lack of motivation.
When people start their teaching careers they are bright eyed, and wanting to help all students. But after 2 or 3 years, especially in lower preforming schools, there is a lot of burn out and jaded reactions to set backs. I know I have had a few jaded remarks when talking about some kids. However, when you take a step back, you think about why the kids are acting (or not acting at all!) the way they are. When you ask kids who were unmotivated, and changed their attitudes why they changed, or how they changed, they will usually respond with “someone believed I could.”
Many teachers will often see a student who is off task and say “they are lazy”. I have heard teachers and aides say that a student who shows low motivation, is just a dumb as a rock, or that the student will never change. No matter when you say things like this, or if you think you are out of ear shot of the student; the student can tell what a teacher thinks of them. When students believe a teacher does not like them, or think they can do the work, they stop trying. If they start to internalize this thought, the teacher will never be able to get them to work in their class.
With the new school year approaching, many teachers are thinking “what can I do differently this year?” The answer, put the effort in to get to know your kids all year! Take the time to pull them aside before or after recess, just to check in. Ask how their game was last week, or if they were able to watch that TV show they wanted to. These little things can go a long way when teachers do have to give criticism about work. If the kids know you care about their personal lives, it won’t be as hard to hear bad things about their education. They know you don’t think they are total screw ups because they struggle with math.
The flip side of this, is you still need to be a good teacher! Make sure positive culture is set in your room. Kids should not ever be allowed to say a negative thing about their classmate’s work! Peer editing is fine, but with the lens that everyone has things to work on, so we are helping each other not judging each other. That one is HUGE! A teacher at my school has let kids say “oh yeah, she never does this right”, and the kid they are talking about started to think everyone in her class thought she was stupid. The same girl the year before had a teacher who set up peer help centers, and she would go there for help all the time but never felt shame about it. It’s all in how you set up your classroom at the beginning of the year, and how you keep it going!
If you are reading this, and you are a parent; listen up! You are a large part of the equation too!! Kids sometimes have bad teachers, it is just a fact of life. However, they will always have you at home! If you can encourage your kids to do their best, point out at least 3 good things in their work for each negative, you are helping! If you have a child who is not great academically, find something they love. Encourage them in that. In my house (with 2 resource kids), we were encourage to do sports and music. We had to keep our grades up, and academics always came first. But, we were pushed to be the best singer, or swimmer, or dancer, and that helped us know we had other talents.
Hopefully, as the new school year starts this can help teachers and parents to be supportive of their kids. It is night and day what a motivated student can do. As the adults in their lives, we need to remember this motivation is not always natural. We need to nurture it and encourage it.